AKUS @ AIPAC Conf: Senate leader vows Congress will declare red lines for action on Iran

A guest post by AKUS

Just returning from my first AIPAC conference, one of 13,000 attendees, including 2,000 students from campuses across the nation, it appears that the press has largely overlooked the most important speech at the conference by focusing on the speeches by Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu.

Obama reiterated that he wants to give sanctions time to work, especially after (if?) the Europeans make good on their promise to halt all oil purchases from Iran after July 2012. At the same time, he has repeated that his policy is not one of containing Iran, but of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. He believes that Iran is at least two years away from building its own nuclear weapons, but he made no reference to the possibility that it could acquire nuclear weapons from another state, such as North Korea or Pakistan. It is not clear if that possibility has entered his, or the USA’s, strategic calculus.

The Guardian has tried to make much of Obama’s statement that too much loose talk only helps Iran by driving up the price of oil, as if it was directed only at Israel. Obama, I suspect, regrets the statement since it was so open to misinterpretation. He was clearly referring to the endless discussions in the MSM and elsewhere, by everyone, not just Israel and Israelis.

A clearly downcast Netanyahu made a largely platitudinous speech at the conference, reiterating his responsibility to keep the safety of Israel uppermost.

He made much of Israel’s ability to strike at its enemies without needing assistance or approval, unlike 1944, pointing to a copy of a letter he has from the time when Jewish organizations begged the Allies to bomb the train tracks to Auschwitz only to be told the resources to do so would be more effectively deployed elsewhere. He was clearly drawing a parallel with existential threat posed by Iran and the Holocaust, and demonstrating his skepticism that sanctions will be effective against Iran. He stated that Israel would take steps to defend its people, unlike the situation that prevailed in 1944, before the State of Israel was founded. I for one do not believe Israel can go it alone in Iran, at least with any effect – time will tell.

But the most striking and potentially important speech was delivered by Mitch McConnell, the Republican Minority leader in the Senate. He made it absolutely clear that not only is “overwhelming force”, as he repeatedly called it, an option, but that it is THE option that will be used against Iran if sanctions do not work – and he appeared to say quite clearly that he believes that sanctions have been applied too late to stop Iran now.

McConnell called for a “clear declaratory statement” from the Administration that if Iran enriches uranium to the level that it can be used in nuclear weapons, or if it acquires a nuclear weapon (presumably from a third-party), the USA will respond with overwhelming military force. Since he feels Obama is not willing to make such a statement, he intends to use the Republican majority in the House to put through such a resolution, and he believes that there is a majority in the Senate that would support the same proposal.

If this happens, it is a major new element in what has till now been largely a war of words against Iran finally accompanied with sanctions that are clearly hurting.

Perhaps McConnell, unlike others, has a clearer understanding that a government like Iran, not as strongly beholden to an electorate as fully democratic states, can allow continuing sanctions to be enforced, as such economic pressure – they believe – may only serve to inflame their population against the outside world rather than causing a change in the regime’s behavior, or a change of the regime itself.

A few quick notes about the conference:

The conference was attended by a massive 13,000 delegates, including many African-Americans, Christians, and, notably, 200 members of Congress supportive of Israel. Another notable guest speaker was supermodel Kathy Ireland. The entire cavernous Washington Convention Center was filled to capacity.

Much is made in MSM like the Guardian of the financial clout of AIPAC. The presence of the Congress-men and –women belies that. They were there, and constantly appear at the conference year after year, because of a genuine feeling that the U.S. and Israel share the same values and the same threats and concerns. Yes, AIPAC is exceptionally well-organized to lobby Congress, but those who think it can buy off hundreds of Congressmen with money simply do not understand how close and deep the ties are between the two countries. AIPAC lobbies on values and security issues shared by both countries.

The conference also showcased Israel advances in electric cars and water purification, and military coordination with the USA. Especially interesting was an enormous Humvee that has been equipped with Israeli anti-IED technology and which is used by American forces in Afghanistan, and, formerly, Iraq. The (non-Jewish) mother of a returned US veteran who used such vehicles spoke movingly about her visit to the factory in Israel where the special armor is made and how she values the assistance Israel has given to making US soldiers’ lives safer.

Finally –one of the highlights for me was an address by Yehuda Avner, former speech writer to Israeli Prime Ministers Ben Gurion, Eshkol, Meir, Rabin and Begin, promoting his book “The Prime Ministers”, which comprises memoirs of those leaders and their interactions with other national leaders. By now well into his eighties, I would think, he spoke engagingly and often hilariously of events from 1947 onwards and the words and actions of the leaders involved. I recommend the 700+ page book to all – you can download an electronic copy to your Kindle, iPad or NOOK.

33 replies »

    • McConnell will promise anything AIPAC right wingers want to hear. He will even pledge to make Israel the 51th state of America if he thinks it can help him get reelected. And as usual, once reelected, he will forget about Israel. He’s a politician, his job is to tell naive people what they want to hear.

      • Do you really have to come up with this kind of boring platitude?

        I suppose your next effort will be to claim that he would pledge that America will become Israel’s second state to get reelected.

        • I’ve always marvelled at far right wingers’ capacity to ignore reality and pamper themselves with the fake promises of politicians.

  1. You do know that McConnell is SENATE MINORITY Leader, not a House Majority leader? House majority is led by Eric Cantor (R-VA). You may want to correct this.

    • My mistake – writing too late at night and too fast. Thanks for picking up the error!

      Nevertheless, McConnell intends to bring his proposal to the Senate and expects that with some support from Democrats who support Israel and are very opposed to a nuclear Iran. with a Republican majority in the House (and Kantor was at AIPAC, BTW) he was adamant that he will be able to get it to pass in both chambers.

  2. OK. AKUS is pro-Republican.

    I think we knew that already.

    Drones … humvees … But this has what exactly to do with anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel at the Guardian?

    • Absolutely not pro-Republican. Simply quoting the speech a Republican made does not make one pro-Republican. I guess all those who quote Obama are Democrats? Like Mitch McConnell, who frequently quoted him?

    • Drones … humvees … But this has what exactly to do with anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel at the Guardian?

      You would begrudge Israel a chance to show her technological expertise to the world?

  3. Hello AKUS

    I am here in a spirit of enquiry.

    This debate has polarised opinion – as we know. Leave aside the damage to the Iranian people and the consequences of a radio-active dust storm engulfing a huge area – what about the people of Israel?

    Speaking to Israeli friends and reading lots – and lots – of opinions over the last few years i am struck by the increasing number of Israelis who support the idea of bombing Iran. But what of the consequences to themselves ? They will not be immune to counter attacks.

    Barak has mused about the possibility of 500 dead Israelis – this seems like a lot of people to me.

    Others have suggested that many will move from the expected targeted areas to the settlements where they will be among Palestinians – and perhaps safer .

    Setting the risk of high Israeli casualties against the possibility of renewed talks leading to an agreement – a cold peace if you like – where do people here think the balance of Israeli opinion lies ?

    I know some Israelis will leave Israel in the event of an attack happening – at least for as long as there is the possibility of retaliatory strikes – from Iran or her allies. Some certainly fear a major war as the outcome.

    Tread carefully.

    • Leni:

      I cannot imagine Israel pulling off a successful attack on scattered targets deeply imbedded in mountains spread over a country the size of Iran, and so far from Israel’s borders, even assuming that Iranian air defences are negligible which they may not be.

      Nevertheless, Ha’aretz seems to think that Obama has given Panetta orders to equip Israel with bunker-busters and refueling air-tankers. I have heard hints of some unspecified new developments from other sources.People underestimate Obama’s resolve in this matter.

      If the Iranians underestimate him as Saddam Hussein did with Bush, the result could be quite disastrous for Iran, and I must say I wish there were some way just to get rid of their ghastly government because Iranians I have known are really nice, smart people and we know from the uprising there in the past that huge numbers want to get rid of their government and join the Western world.

      Anyway, unless the two countries are coordinated in a joint attack, I can’t see it happening by Israel acting alone, and Obama made it clear that he is going to wait and see how sanctions work out so I don’t see anything happening in the short term (famous last words??).

      Meanwhile, the Iranians are up to their old tricks – now agreeing to talks with the Western powers to stave off further sanctions and a possible attack, while probably using the time to continue their nuclear work.

      As for the rockets on Israel – I think that is a tinderbox that anything could ignite, not just an attack on Iran, but Hezbollah and Hamas know what the result will be for them and may not want to come to Iran’s assistance, if that’s what they think an attack on Israel would be- this time it won’t end with a pullout from Gaza after a few days, or without destroying Hezbollah in Lebanon.

    • “Others have suggested that many will move from the expected targeted areas to the settlements where they will be among Palestinians – and perhaps safer .”
      Anyone who suggests that doesn’t have a clue what they’re talking about. Even other Arabs don’t care about the health and welfare of Palestinians (other than as a stick with which to beat Israel), and the Iranian government (which, don’t forget, ISN’T Arab) most certainly doesn’t care about any Arabs, even those who are coreligionists. (Saudi Arabia is probably even more worried than Israel about the idea of a nuclear Iran.)

      “I know some Israelis will leave Israel in the event of an attack happening”
      And others will leave if Iran gets nuclear capability. Your point is… ?

      • “(Saudi Arabia is probably even more worried than Israel about the idea of a nuclear Iran.)”

        The regime perhaps, but not the people. Polls show that the people in Arab countries are VERY worried about aggression from the US or Israel, but not worried about Iran.

        • Perhaps you would care to link to these polls, dubitante?

          You cannot make such grand claims without offering up proof – not only that such polls exist but that they are also well-constructed, provide adequate background information and are statistically valid.

          Given Saudi Arabia’s repressive regime which would likely exclude half the population (i.e. women) I cannot imagine they are either well-constructed or statistically valid.

    • Should Israel attack Iran, not only would Iran launch a counter-strike, but it would ask Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Hamas to launch a massive rain of rockets over the country, and it would attack Israeli interests abroad. All analysts agree that Israel will never attack Iran, it’s not strong enough. Netanyahu speaks a lot, but he never takes action.

    • Leni,

      Can’t speak of most Israeli but as one who leaves abroad I am very much against attacking Iran unless other options are not available or have been proven useless’
      I hope that such an action will (and I’m sure it will be) be taking with a heavy heart and not with joy or amusement.
      We see the events unfold and hear the Iranian president speak about his experience with a belief he has a role to play in the bringing of the 12th Imam.
      To us it sounds like a maniac is driving the country.
      Judging by our experience with Iran’s proxies and the attacks on Jewish targets around the world we regret to find very little alternatives then attacking it.

      My entire family leaves in Israel in either the central region or the northern border. Both of these areas are likely to get hit by a counter attack of either Iran, Hizbullah or both.

      My family is not well off to travel abroad and do not have foreign passports so moving abroad is not an option.

      Saying this, I believe Iran should also stop playing about drumming its war drums in front of its people.

      They have been meddling with regional countries since the 80’s.
      This has been increased since 2004.

      They have been nothing but disrespctful towards Israel from the revelotion onwards and it is only escalating in recent years.
      Israel assisted Iran early in the 80’s while most of the west assisted Iraq.

      They have shown contempt to the memory of the holocaust victims needlessly.
      They have championed the cause of regime change or the attack on Israel in the UN and other confrences.

      If they do represent the “justice” in this world as they claim to be they have a funny way of showing it.

      • “We see the events unfold and hear the Iranian president speak about his experience with a belief he has a role to play in the bringing of the 12th Imam.
        To us it sounds like a maniac is driving the country.”

        The most powerful nuclear arsenal in the world is controlled by a man who believes that the Earth was created 6000 years ago by an invisible man in the sky, who will return to kill all non-believers.

        Is it all crazy beliefs that you’re worried about? Or just the Islamic ones?

  4. “those who think it can buy off hundreds of Congressmen with money”

    In fact, AIPAC cannot buy off any Congressmen at all — not one. AIPAC is not a political action committee and so legally cannot, and does not, contribute one single cent to Congressment or candidates.

    Further, beyond AIPAC, total political contributions to US campaigns by pro-Jewish and pro-Zionist sources amount to a small fraction of the political fundraising scene in the USA.

  5. 3 Things not mentioned at AIPAC

    1. Casualties resulting from any action bearing in mine we are talking about nuclear plants (see Fukushima)
    2. Legality or otherwise of military action
    3. Palestinians (assuming you agree they exist)

    • It’s a good point, and one worth reiterating. Any war on Iran would, at this stage, be illegal and would constitute a war of aggression, an act described by the Nuremberg Tribunals as the Supreme international crime.

      And yet the illegality of openly talking about military aggression against Iran is pretty much entirely absent from the Elite media. Most institutions, both in broadcast and in print parrot the official narrative regarding Iran’s “nuclear weapons program” which according to all 16 US intelligence agencies doesn’t exist.

    • Item 1 – yes – the Iranians should also think about that but I gather you may have finally understood Israel’s concern

      Item 2 was discussed in detail at one of the breakout sessions

      Item 3 -Obama vaguely mentioned the Palestinians in a reference to negotiations.

      The brilliant would-be Palestinian super-power’s strategy of taking on the so-called paper tiger called the USA in the United Nations has completely marginalized them. In light of their sponsor, Iran, developing nuclear weapons, no-one gives a damn about their problems at this time.

      Even the usually supine British have suddenly woken up now that they have realized, as I for one have been pointing out for a couple of years, that Iranian missiles can reach many capitals of Europe. They are trying to develop one that could reach the USA (big, big mistake – that will be seen as a real threat to the USA and bring a very tough response) and therefore, of course, London – so suddenly its not just about Israel.


      David Cameron has warned that Iran is seeking to build an “inter-continental nuclear weapon” that threatens the west, as he urged Israel to allow time for sanctions to force the Iranians to change their strategic stance.

      He was speaking after the cabinet was briefed for an hour by the national security adviser, Sir Kim Darroch, on the imminence of the threat to the UK posed by Iran.

      • AKUS last month, February, in the House of Commons in answer to a PQ, (Parliamentary Question) This was said;

        “As the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) most recent report on the Iranian nuclear programme makes clear, Iran has conducted activities relevant, and in some cases specific, to the development of nuclear weapons. Iran continues to expand its stockpile of near-20% enriched uranium. Its continuing production of this material—in defiance of United Nations Security Council Resolutions—brings it closer to the day when it will have sufficient stocks to further enrich this material to weapons-grade and produce a nuclear device”

        Which part of the phrase “in some cases specific, to the development of nuclear weapons.” Do the apologists for the Iranian regime who post here fail to understand?

  6. Itsik

    Thanks for your reply – whatever happens I hope your family stay safe.

    I am opposed to war – particularly a war ‘of choice’. In the case of Iran there are many other issues involved. The legality of such an invasion is one – the biggest problem is the number of deaths and environmental destruction caused by radiation. Some estimates say it could seriously affect KSA and Kuwait as well as countries to the N and NE of Iran.

    The suffering of both the Iranian and Israeli people could be immeasurable.

    As for retaliation from Hezb for example – very much unknown. Some people from N Israel were able to shelter in the settlements in 2006 – many died of course. The weaponry held by Hezb has advanced since then – longer range to start with.

    There are so many reports – speculation and leaks doing the rounds that truth is impossible to discern. Whatever the Israeli people think or feel the politicos will make the decision on their behalf. The same applies in Iran.

    The long term results of an invasion are unknown – politically, environmentally and economically. Deeper enmity against Israel is another one – the uncertainties across the region in terms of future gvts. and policies.

    Whatever the general feeling among Israelis it will likely be ignored in the final calculation. We here in UK know this to our cost. Opposition to the Iraq war was ignored – the outcome of that is an ongoing and unmitigated disaster. The future there , along with impact on neighbouring countries – still unknown.

    • Calm yourself. Rockets are not accurate. The biggest can carry 1/2 ton of explosive and can only be fired once.

      F15 fighter planes can carry 8 tons of bombs and deliver them with pinpoint accuracy and then return to base to get another payload.

      The ‘Freedom Fighting’ world has invested heavily in rockets of basically North Korean design. The ‘Freedom Fighters’ have realised that no Arab air force can compete with Israel’s air force so the alternative has been to invest in rockets.

      There will be Israeli casualties but, I feel that Israel can withstand this loss.

      It cannot withstand 2 or three nuclear devices.

      There will be no considerations of ‘international law’ here when Israel makes its decision. There will only be the survival of the Jewish state.

      Iran on the other hand, cannot be destroyed. Not destroyed by Israel at least. It is simply too big. But, it can be seriously damaged and would be if ever a nuclear strike against Israel was enacted. Israel has a ‘second strike’ capability apart from punishment, possibly nuclear,against Iran from the rational world.

      And anyway. Israel still has a lot of Iranian friends from the good relationship that it enjoyed with the Shah’s Iran. Nobody would hold these people responsible if the Iranian Mullahs pushed the button.

      But Iran would have to be punished with a serious loss of Iranian life and I imagine that a lot of opposition Iranians would suffer too.

      You may not ‘like’ war. All rational people do not ‘like war’. But when a war has to be fought, your type of skewed mentality will bring about your own destruction.

    • Some more duck analogies Bibi could use:

      If it looks like an occupation……….
      If it looks like apartheid……….

  7. Hello Jerusalemite

    Yes – all countries can sustain some losses among both their civilian and military people. The country – as represented by its leaders – waves flags, says a few prayers over the graves and then moves on.

    The families are left to grieve; the injured and disabled struggle to rebuild lives. We can accept certain setbacks if we think they will lead to greater success or security in the future. You seem very sure that this will be the case for Israel post any attack on Iran. By how much is your confidence shared across the wider population I wonder.

    Rockets may be inaccurate but a steady stream of them can do considerable damage. Inaccurate rockets fired at S Israel cause fear and misery for the people there – I’m sure the N Israelis would feel the same.

    Will you stand there and simply say ‘Calm yourselves’ to men, women and children fleeing for their lives ?

    • If rockets from Iran start falling on Israel, there is no place to flee too in Israel. And many of the rockets will be falling on Arab populations too as happened in 1991.

      Not a situation that I wish for but a nuclear device in the hands of Iran cannot be tolerated. It is as simple as that.

  8. AKUS

    It’s all a mess really isn’t it ? Conflicting statements – pundits and opinion makers. You will be aware of my scepticism as far as the words of politicians go.

    Perhaps 2 months ago it was almost emphatically stated that US would not supply super bunker busters or refuelling capability to Israel. Now it is suggested they will – or might – possibly.

    KSA said Israeli planes could have staging post/touch down facilities there . Now today, from US top brass a statement that US interests in region must not be harmed. These interests include the US naval bases in Bahrein and access (and control ?) of Gulf and Straits. KSA has already angered Shia opposition by supporting Bahreini royals. The plot and the mix thicken.

    During the winter the rhetoric was suggesting ‘a window of opportunity’ from the end of March to June- July.

    Interesting – and possibly related thing said today – recently returned Brit Ambassador to Syria claimed that Assad will fall ‘before the year’s end’. Nine months must seem a long time if you live in Homs.

    Don’t put too much faith in Cameron – our military being cut back to the bone. Cameron very weak and no appetite here for further involvement in wars. Many here do not see it as ‘our fight’.

    Your report is interesting – but I remember it is election year- rhetoric flows freely and does not always reflect reality.

    My hope is for a peaceful resolution.